Many years ago I stumbled, I believe in soulseek (Twisterella room maybe?), with some songs belonging to a band I had never heard about before: Boys Like Charlotte. I’ve been googling for years now and always the only entry I could find was a best of list in Twee.net where someone had voted for the band. I didn’t know where they were from, when were they around or who were they. I assumed there were no releases. The songs I had were tagged as demos. The song names were:
+ Cry Myself
+ I Say it’s True
+ Hiding in the Sun
+ Now That You Are Gone
+ What You Say
+ Through the Rain
These songs sounded very British, like those late 80s pop band demos. You know, these tapes that many bands recorded back then and now are totally forgotten or lost. Well, happens these sounds came from Sweden and Tommy Gunnarson, Heavenly Pop Hits factotum and future writer of the definitive book about indiepop in Sweden, solved the mystery for me.
Not so long ago I was talking with Tommy about the future Sound of Starke Adolf compilation. We were talking about Aerospace and their great songs, and that there was an unreleased song that for some reason didn’t end up in their EP. I told him how talented was Toby, that I loved his previous band Stevepops as well. We kept talking about Swedish bands and somehow the name Boys Like Charlotte popped into my mind, I asked Tommy if he had a clue who played in that band. “That’s Toby from Aeorospace as well” was his answer. Wow!
I’ve got in touch with Toby and asked him in a couple of emails about this fantastic and obscure band. Toby was very kind to fill in the blanks and share with me the story about the band. Here are some bits and bobs of what he told me:
As I recall the best songs are actually missing from your list; the fuzzy “Down, Down, Down” and three tracks of jangle that really want to be Happydeadmen songs.
Well, the reason there is no information about Boys Like Charlotte is because I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing at the time.
Boys Like Charlotte existed in two eras actually – the first one being from about 1988 to 1990, basically between two versions of Stevepops (with or without a drum machine actually, as well as in Swedish and in English) and then there was another era as stevepops folded about 4 years later.
The first Boys Like Charlotte stuff was done just as the Swedish indie (jangle/wimp/shambling/anorak/take-your-pick) scene was taking its first few steps. There was very few bands around; happydeadmen were the only ones that had released anything, and The Wannadies and This Perfect Day were still unknown to anyone living south of Skellefteå, all other bands were leftovers from the drab goth stadium era of Echo & The Bunnymen and (early) U2. The fanzine Sound Affects had done their first few issues and Marcus Törncrantz had advertised the sale of Grimsby Fishmarket. Red Sleeping Beauty and Acid House Kings were still in the bedrooms. There was one record store in Stockholm that stocked Sarah/Subway records 7” and I think they used to order 5-6 copies of each release; most often that would mean one copy each for Marcus Törncrantz (Grimsby Fishmarket), Niklas Angergård (Acid House Kings), Mikael Mattson (Red Sleeping Beauty) and I although I doubt that we even knew each other at the time and god knows who bought the remaining few stocked records.
We would nod at each other at Happydeadmen shows (as they were the only band that ever played live, we saw each other at the most strange places such as punk rock squats and dive bars) but that was about it.
I had no idea what to do with the stuff I put on tape – I probably did give one copy to John Boqvist who later went on to play keyboards in Aerospace and somewhere along the line he must have passed the songs on to someone else. I just put the finished songs on tape and then put them in a drawer and moved on. They were never properly packaged, there was no demo or anything, just one or two copies of the original mixes – and I just found some of those tapes a few months ago, so god knows who even transferred them to any digital form. So the fact that anyone, at all, even knows about the band is a complete mystery to me.
I think I might have done about 10 songs over those two years, all stolen from what I was listening to at the time; it’s just blatant rip-offs of The Darling Buds/Flatmates/Primitives/Shop Assistants done with borrowed guitars played through a minimal guitar amp set at 10 and an Alesis sequenser to power the drums and bass off a Roland MT-32. After seeing happydeadmen enough times I got myself an acoustic 12-string and proceeded to rip them off as well (and stealing unashamedly from McCarthy). I used go to the UK on my own using a eu-rail pass and pick up the NME/Melody Maker at Victoria Station and then just travel the UK for a week or two to see any jangle/wimp/shambling/anorak- band that was playing at the time (I don’t think I even talked to that many people at all during those travels, I was just too shy, but I did get to see The Sea Urchins, McCarthy, This Poison and The James Dean Driving Experience among others and they are still some of my favorite bands of all time) and when I came home I just redid the songs that I’d heard (as well as bought) to my best ability.
Most of the songs were total rip-offs; I stole the melody and lyrics from The Flatmates I Could Be In Heaven (“I wanna hang around with you”) for a song called Down, Down, Down. Looking back it was more like an academic course in indie songwriting than anything else.
In the spring of 1990 we (re)formed Stevepops and the anorak/jangle was democratically kicked out of the sound for our more punkish roots – the anorak thing was dying and we felt more at home with the sound of Mega City Four/Wonderstuff/Decendents/ Odd Numbers thing anyways. From a career standpoint it was probably a really bad move as the Swindie scene exploded (with The Wannadies, Popsicle, This Perfect Day, Brainpool, Cardigans etc) and we were on our own way star struck by skateboards and a very distant following of the US post-hardcore scene. Stevepops did their third ever show opening up for Fugazi and I still have the note given to us by Guy Piciotto (with the words “here’s the address to a friend of mine, he’s got a great label and would love your stuff”) with Calvin Johnson’s address. We never even though about sending him anything, we were more focused on getting a show in Gävle. Any interview stevepops did at the time was marred by miscommunication and a lack of shared culture. Indie fanzines would ask us questions about our favorite bands and look like question marks when we went off on the brilliance of Black Flag, Minor Threat, Big Drill Car, Hüsker Dü or the Descendents. And all the hc-kids ignored us because we played indiepop. As stevepops folded I got back to doing solo stuff, but it was a different era; there were tons of great lo-fi stuff coming out on K/Kill Rock Stars/Homestead etc, so the only thing that stayed the same was the name.
The second coming of Boys Like Charlotte was slightly more public – I played two shows (one in a corner of an apartment at a party way past midnight and the other opening up for Stereo Total) – and even managed to give away a song to my friends as a Christmas card (so there was a proper cover for that one song). The sound of Boys Like Charlotte 2.0 was the sound of Elliott Smith and The Softies only done really badly.
Then I formed The Shermans with Mikael Mattson, quit after doing 6 songs and 3 shows and formed Aerospace as a direct consequence to going to The Bowlie Weekender in the spring of 1999. The rest is more publicly known I assume. Thanks a thousand Toby! Hope I get to listen those 4 songs! I bet they are fantastic!